Sunday, January 25, 2015

Taking a breather

If you've been checking back looking for more, just know I'm taking a breather from blogging professionally.  I've made a decision to take a leave of absence from my job in public ed beginning at the end of this school year, and I'm trying to focus on "What's next?"

Stay tuned, as I will undoubtedly have more to say as the year closes this year!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Using strengths, not discipline, in your classroom management

You're sitting with a student looking over her work for the last week.  The rest of the class is supposed to be working on the vocabulary for the current unit.  Quietly.  Independently.  It's the only way you can be certain they're all working while you conference with individual students.  It's the only way you can keep them all accountable.

But who is throwing a wrench into your plan because he just cannot stop talking?  Enrique.  You've moved him three times and put him in a corner.  You're tired of moving him.  You've given him incentive tickets for times when he can sit quietly and work.  You've kept him in for lunch detentions for not shutting up.  You have called home because there is no end to his chatting with his peers.  Honestly, you're frustrated with his incessant talking, and you're about ready to lose your cool!

The way I see it, you've got a few choices.  You can lose your temper and unleash your teacher dragon on him, which will feel better initially but only to you and not for long.  You can kick him out to sit in the hallway.  This will "drive home the message", "teach him a lesson", and make and example of him.  Again, this might make you feel better for teaching him a lesson and using him as an example, but will it really stop the behavior?  It also removes him from under your watchful eye and gives him more room to mess around.  The likelihood he will get much done out there just went down about fifty percent . . . . or more.  You could write him a discipline referral - again driving home your message of "too much talking".  But will this eliminate the problematic behavior?

Sound familiar?  You're about ready to get into a struggle with a thirteen-year-old kid who likely doesn't care whether he is in your classroom or in the office.  Guess who else has had enough too.

Let me tell you a little bit about this boy.  After taking a multiple intelligences test and test of learning styles, Enrique's scores show that he is highly interpersonal and prefers to take in information by listening (aural).  He's people smart.  He watches body language and listens to tone of voice and is able to interact with you the way he should to get just the response he wants.  And now if you look at him, you can see this is very true.  No matter who he engages in conversation - his peers, the principal, even the school resource officer -  his body language shows high sense of self.  As long as he is talking and listening, one has to wonder even if he isn't eighteen or nineteen years old and not thirteen.  He carries himself in a conversation beautifully, and he even has a tendency to bluff his way through things you're certain he doesn't know.

Unfortunately, since he was five, his teachers have made it clear that the constant talking is inconvenient, inappropriate, and unwanted.  Upon his entrance to kindergarten, Enrique's strength in his interpersonal has gotten him into more trouble than not, but no matter what his teachers did, they just couldn't squash this boy's gift for gab.  By the age of thirteen, his weakness in math and reading has gotten so out of control, and his teachers blame most of it on his inability to stay focused on anything but his peers, that Enrique can't wait to turn sixteen and drop out of school.  He has no qualms with sharing his goals and puts little focus on anything academic.

Enrique doesn't feel comfortable doing much academically.  Neither does his friend Dalia, who is also in this same class.  But instead of talking nonstop, Dalia spends most of her time drawing.  During whole class activities Dalia keeps a sheet of paper on her desk and doodles or draws while she tries to listen and/or participate.  Dalia's strength is . . . ?  You guessed it - visual/spacial.  And maybe a touch of kinesthetic since it seems like her hands have to be moving often.  

Reading is difficult for both of these kiddos.  They both struggle with linguistic activities, and when they feel unsuccessful in an area, they tend to feel bad about themselves.  Being the still-very- egotistical beings that they are, they try to salvage what little self esteem they have by doing something that makes them feel good.  What better way to do this than by doing something in which they excel?  For Enrique, his answer is to talk. For Dalia - drawing and doodling soothes her.  What we find to be blatant disobedient or disrespectful acts might actually be mechanisms they are using to save the little bit of academic self esteem they have left.  Will dishing out punishments stop the behaviors that are being conceived as disrespectful?  Absolutely not.

So what do we do with these two and others like them?

Honor their strengths.  We all have had the drummer.  You know, the one who taps her pen or pencil to rhythm without even realizing she's doing it.  Musical strength?  That's likely.  Barking orders to stop tapping is probably going to chop her down a little and make her feel bad.  She may stop.  She may not.  But nothing beneficial comes out of calling her out in class and making her stop.

Point it out.  For example - Gabby, I see that you're tapping again.  That musical strength of yours could be put to some good use if you could find out a way to fit those definitions into a rhythm.  Can you work on the first one for me for a minute and I'll come help you with it after I'm done here with Dylan?  or Enrique, you're talking again.  Your interpersonal strength is distracting Charise from getting her work done.  How about you and George go into the back corner and work on the vocabulary together?  Make sure that you both talk about the answer before you choose the correct one.

Sometimes you can't let them showcase their strengths, but just bringing the strength into focus and honoring it - maybe even asking your kiddo to tone the strength down a bit will help a lot more than a disciplinary action or being called out in front of peers.

Your students want to be respected, honored, and understood.  Being aware of each of them, how they interact with others, and why they behave certain ways will most certainly benefit you in more than just a few ways.  This is truly the key to building their confidence and creating learners who take control of themselves as learners.  And then maybe - just maybe - Enrique's talking will no longer be a nuisance to you, but a message that he needs something a little different than what you're offering today.